'Duty First' provides new look for revamped Cantigny museum

When you visit the newly renovated Wheaton military museum, you can still sit in a replica D-Day landing craft and imagine what it was like to storm Omaha Beach and turn the tide of World War II.

From there, you can still advance to a dimly lit, leafy path and imagine what it was like to slog through the jungles of Vietnam.

And that's where the historical drama used to end in the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park.

  An immersive experience in the renovated First Division Museum recreates a soldier's perspective in the Objective Norfolk battle against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm. Bev Horne/

But a new gallery offers more immersive - and now virtual - experiences.

That wing, called "Duty First," will debut during Saturday's reopening of the museum. It's the much smaller of the museum's two galleries and tells the story of the contemporary soldier after Vietnam.

But the museum's mission remains the same: To build empathy with the men and women who have served in the Army's oldest division.

"They are our soldiers," Executive Director Paul Herbert said. "Our welfare, their welfare, is our responsibility, both while they're serving and when they come home as veterans."

  The family of Pfc. Ross McGinnis donated his Medal of Honor, awarded after his 2006 death, to the First Division Museum last summer. The Pennsylvania native and four members of his crew were riding in a Humvee 10 years ago in Iraq when a grenade was thrown into the vehicle. The 19-year-old sheltered the blast with his body, sparing the lives of his four comrades. Bev Horne/

And so in the new gallery, you can now step into a mock armored tank and imagine what it was like to ride across the Iraqi desert during a battle of the Gulf War.

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If you go

What: First Division Museum reopening celebration

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton

Details: 21-gun salute, photo booth, beer tent, food trucks, live music, inflatable obstacle course


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